Think on it: Ireland in the mid 1800’s ruled by English overlords as British plantations assaulting the Catholic religion and Irish culture. Congo, at the turn of the century, the personal fiefdom of the despot Leopold II thoughtlessly annihilating the native civilizations that already existed. The economic and cultural failure of the Weimar Republic giving rise to the totalitarianism of the National Socialist Party and almost consuming western Europe in death and destruction. The rise of communism enveloping eastern European countries oppressively almost wiping out previously thriving nations. The dictatorships of Idi Amin and Joseph Mubuto in Africa. Today, the dysfunctional government of Yemen, the civil war in Syria, the socialistic driven collapse of the Venezuelan economy, the drug cartels of Mexico, the graft and corruption in Haiti. And, none of this includes the impact of the sometimes unnamed apartheid systems western civilization imposed during the Empire Era and continued to impose on countries that provided them with goods and wealth.
Are you saying, wait, what, Ireland? I know, I know, rolling green country side, lovely castles, quaint villages. Not a country you would think of as awful, but it was. My family is from Co. Mayo, which was a British stronghold. I like to think of it as a ‘rebel’ county. My greats and grands, like many of our ancestors, immigrated to the US because they were denied their basic freedoms; individually, culturally, religiously, ethnically. America looked like a place they could be Irish and more, or for others, be Jewish and more, or be Indian and more. Mine came during the Great Potato Famine, no history lesson here. One million died, one million emigrated.
I love that I am an American. I am grateful that my ancestors sought a different place that would provide a different outcome than the one they faced in Ireland. I have always hoped that I would be that brave. That I could, would, leave behind the gawd-awful aspects of my home country and forge a new life under a new set of rules, one that provided more of, well, of just about everything I cherish about being human. And I am proud that I still love my Irish heritage. My heritage is different from the country, think of it as its soul!
I want this sort of realism to imbue my writing. Middle grade should be a time to understand charity. Not the charity of gifting, donating either time or money. The charity that is love, a love of a better future. That’s what our ancestors did, in love they left behind all they had known for the unknown. All that was familiar for the unfamiliar. Maybe they had to learn a new language. Maybe they were discriminated against when they came here. The Irish certainly were! But they held on. They made it better. I want it to ring true as much for me as for readers.